Behind the Story: Deciding Between Standalone or Multiple Books

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Standalone to Multiple Books: Making the Decision

When I set out on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I was resolved to write a standalone novel.  I am doing an adaptation of a classic piece of literature.  That classic is one, admittedly long, book.  Therefore, I would write one book.  I thought a standalone novel was a good place to begin for a new writer, and I didn’t want to jump on the series bandwagon.  One book.  I could handle one book.

But as I started writing, I began to worry.  My word count was high.  And climbing.  I am not a verbose wordsmith either.  My scenes are quick.  Rarely do I write more than three sentences of description.  I like action.  In fact, while I’m praised for my fast pacing, my advisors and critique partners often want more description.  So the fact that my word count was so high made me nervous.  Because I knew I would need to eventually go back and flesh out descriptions and close plot holes that I sped past.

I was less than two-thirds through the first draft when I hit the max word count for a typical Young Adult standalone novel.  (YA typically falls between 55k and 90k.)  And so I knew I had to do some serious thinking.

Why had I tethered myself to this one book idea?  Mostly, it was because I wanted to be identical to the classic novel I was adapting.  Was that a wise decision?  Can I consider another option?

And when I thought about it, multiple books actually made more sense.

  • My one book is very much divided into three distinct parts.
  • There are three completely different settings.
  • Each part ends with a devastating event.
  • Each part ends with both a resolution as well as a cliffhanger.
  • Each part begins with my character grappling with change and new conflict.

I had three books.  Easily.  In fact, three books made so much more sense.  So I gave in.  And the good side is: I have almost an entire trilogy drafted.  Not just outlined.  Drafted.  And that rocks.

The tough part: it’s all a little more overwhelming.  Because a part of every writer wonders why anyone would want to read their book.  And now I have to persuade a reader to not just invest their time and money in one book, but three.  And that’s more pressure.

But I love my story.  I love my characters.  I love my setting.  And I know this story isn’t like anything else that’s out there right now.

So I’ll ignore the pressure and doubts.  And keep writing.  Because deep down: I just love this story.  And I have to write it.  Even if it takes me three books.

Have you ever had a story evolve beyond your expectations?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

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Behind the Story: Getting Organized

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Getting Organized

I love using planners.  In college, the first thing I’d do after the first full week of classes is fill out a planner/calendar with all the due dates for the semester.  Often things would be color coded.  I liked to see everything all laid out in one document.  I’ve gone through similar phases with blogging and planning out my posts for the month.

But here is my frustration: planners don’t often have what I’m looking for.  Occasionally I’ve found one.  I really liked a line of planners Vera Bradley made for awhile.  But when I went shopping for my 2015 planner, I could not find what I was looking for.  I like to have both a monthly spread and the weekly spread.  For example, I want to be able to see the whole month of January and then immediately following a full calendar for there to be a smaller weekly breakdown.  Apparently, I am alone in this desire because finding a planner laid out that way is a challenge.

So I resolved this dilemma by making my own darn planner.  Right now it’s in a file folder, but I might move it to a three-ring binder.  I wanted to share the pages I created in case this is a design that others may find helpful.  Below are links to the PDF files.

Month Planner

This page features a write-in calendar, a place to list books I read that month, and a place to record my writing word count for the entire month.

Weekly Planner

This page features two weekly spreads where I can record:

  • Daily word count
  • Blog post published that day
  • What book I am reading

There is also a spot at the end of each week to record what my biggest accomplishment of the week was.  Sometimes we all need to recognize our efforts and give ourselves a pat on the back!

I love that I’ve been able to customize a planner for my own uses.  And this was way cheaper than buying one!

Feel free to save or download the pdfs to use yourself!

How do you stay organized?  Do you use a planner or calendar system?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Behind the Story: Journaling Your Writing

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:

Journaling Your Writing

I wanted to share something I started doing as part of my writing routine that’s been helpful for me.  Perhaps it will be helpful to other fellow writers as well!  I’m calling it journaling because that’s pretty close to what it is. Here is what I include in my journaling:
  • Today’s Date
  • Brief Description of Where I Left Off in My Novel
  • What Scenes I Know Are Coming Up Next
  • Surprises While I Was Writing
  • My Final Word Count For the Day
I don’t write a ton for each entry.  A typical day looks like this:
Write Tip Pic
I want to explain what each part does for me, and why this has been a useful tool:
  • Today’s Date: Helps to hold me accountable for writing each day.  And it’s useful in tracking my own productivity.  I also give myself gold star stickers on a calendar for each 1k I write, and if I forget to “star myself” then I can go back here to check.
  • Where I Left Off: I always begin my writing day by re-reading the last scene that I wrote.  I usually try not to do any editing.  Rereading gets me back in the zone and refreshes my memory.  And then writing a brief blurb of that scene in my journaling helps me focus on what about that scene was important.
  • What’s Next: Listing the scenes that are coming up next can serve as an outline, menu, or brainstorm session.  Sometimes it’s a reminder of what’s on my agenda.  Sometimes I can kind of pick from the menu based on what I think comes next organically.  And sometimes I have no idea what comes next and I brainstorm some possibilities.
  • Surprises: This is probably the part of my journaling I love most.  Whenever I sit down to write, something will usually come out that I was not expecting.  An unplanned plot point or an emotional burst from a character or a new quirky secondary character makes himself known.  My favorite part of my writing day has become writing down the surprises, and often I want to explore that surprise more the next day.  I also think it might be fun to share with readers someday… “This character came out of nowhere!” or “I was never planning to do that!”
  • Word Count: This holds me accountable for my writing most of all.  I try to write a 1,000 words a day… no matter what.  It’s a high goal, but honestly, the hardest part is making the time to write and getting your butt in the chair.  Once I’m started, I usually make it.
Not only has this journaling been helpful, but I also think that somewhere down the road, this is going to be a sentimental keepsake.  Being able to look back and see how my story unfolded… I wish I’d done this from the very beginning.
Now I have a beautiful use for all those awesome journals/notebooks that people give me as gifts  🙂
Any other writers do some form of journaling?  Anyone plan to give this a try?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Bits of Writing Wisdom (1)

Writing Wisdom
The first of a series of posts where I share writing quotes that inspire me.  Using crafty supplies, I create and mount the quotes in a vintage typewriter style.  Then I photograph the quotes to share with you.

Writing Wisdom #1:

Final Writing Wisdom 1

 

How this inspired me:
I’ve been in the middle of writing something and become totally and completely bored by what I was typing.  And when I stop myself from tapping away at those keys and think about what I’m typing–I usually realize that nothing about what I’m writing is moving the plot along.  Often what I catch myself doing is writing a description passage.  Or perhaps describing mundane details like what my characters are eating and how they’re dressing for the day.  Sometimes that boring stuff gets the words flowing, but deleting, regrouping, and coffee is definitely the best course of action.  Write exciting!  Not boring.

Thanks Maggie Stiefvater (author of Shiver, The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys) for the great wisdom!

Share this bit of writing wisdom with a writing friend!
Or pin for later inspiration! 

May you have many exciting writing days!

Master Writer: Poe and Sound Effects

Poe Pic

(I drew this Poe head.
And I’m pretty darn proud of it too!)

I just finished teaching a unit featuring several works by Edgar Allan Poe.  If there’s anyone who teaches out there, you’ll know that teaching something forces you to not just learn the material, but become an expert.  Especially when you’re teaching something… times five classes.  And especially when you have 110 little heads asking you questions.

But as a writer, I’ve also found that teaching what are often great works of literature offers me amazing insight on the craft of writing.  At author events, people always ask for advice on becoming a writer.  And very often authors answer that you need to read a lot.  I think I’d go a step further.  Reading a lot is great.  But reflecting on and analyzing what you read is just as important to the growing process as a writer.  I think this is why so many writers benefit from a good MFA program–because it forces writers to use these analysis skills with their reading.

Anyhow, this post is intended to share one of the lessons I learned from Edgar Allan Poe.  A pretty cool one, I think.

Lesson from a Master Writer: Using consonance to create sound effects that mimic the action in your narrative.
Instructor: Mr. Poe
Required Text: “The Raven”

For this lesson, please read the following two stanzas from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

-Stanzas 3-4, “The Raven”

Using these two stanzas, we are going to look at how Poe used consonance to create sound effects that mimic the noises in the narrative.

First, what is consonance?  Consonance is the purposeful repetition of a consonant sound.  (Assonance is the purposeful repetition of a vowel sound.)

In the first stanza above (stanza 3 in “The Raven”), the consonant sound “s” is repeated in the first line, “the silken, sad, uncertain rustling.”  What sound do you make when you want a person to be quiet?  When you want silence?  Shhhhh.  The “s” sound is a soft sound as well as one associated with silence.  And what is Poe describing using this soft “s” sound?  The movement of curtains.  Now say that line again.  Go on.  Say it out loud.  “The silken, sad, uncertain rustling…”  The very sound of that line mimics the soft sound of rustling curtains.

Absolute brilliance.  Let’s look at another.

In the next stanza (stanza 4 in “The Raven”), the consonant sound “p” is repeated in the lines:

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

Especially when contrasted with the soft “s” sound of the previous stanza, the “p” sound is sharp and surprising.  Think of the word POP!  Or make the “p” sound with your lips.  It’s a quick burst of noise.  This “p” sound is again being used as a kind of sound effect for the narrative.  These two lines are describing the knocking sound at the door.  The quick, sudden burst of noise that has startled the narrator from slumber.  When I read this line, every time I get to a “p” sound, I feel as if I’m hearing that persistent rapping at the door.  The “p” sound even forms a sort of rhythm that one might use when knocking on someone’s door.

So while “The Raven” is known for its lyrical rhyme and rhythm, I’d venture to say that Poe was one of Horror’s first sound effect artists.  Poe knew how sounds affected a person’s psyche, and so he tried to imitate sounds with the words he chose.

POE = GENIUS

Thanks for attending my little lesson on Poe.
I’d love if you left a comment to tell me your thoughts on Poe, “The Raven,” or the lesson post in general!
Is this kind of post something you’d like to see more of on Hughes Reviews?

Writing: Troubleshooting, Backstory, Romance?

Writing ResolutionThis blog has had many focuses over the course of its creation.  It started as a chronicle of my grad classes in Children’s Lit.  Then it transformed to a more book review focused blog.  One thing I need right now is a way for me to reflect and digest the progress I’m making on finishing my thesis.  (And seek out advice/tips from fellow writers–see bottom of post!) So I’m amping up the writing posts, but there should be a more steady diet of book reviews popping back up as well.

I’d set a deadline to be finished with the first draft of my novel over the summer.  But between having mono and transferring to a new job, nothing about this past summer went according to plan.  I’ve settled into the rhythm of my new job, and evenings spent sitting behind my desk with blankets and tea as I type away are now a real possibility.

I’m in the messy middle of my novel.  The middle was particularly difficult to even begin because I had a whole new setting and whole new cast of characters.  So I really felt like I was starting over.  I’ve written a large chunk of the middle and there are huge portions that I’m just not happy with.  I feel like I’ve taken some wrong turns and I need to go back in order to move forward.

I spent Friday night brainstorming every problem that I thought I had with this section of the novel.  Any doubt or frustration I was having.  See below:

photo 1

The next step was brainstorming possible solutions to these problems.  This has pretty much become my agenda for the next two weeks or so:

photo 3

Saturday afternoon I spent tackling some of the list.  I made Character Plan Sheets for the two characters I’m struggling with.  I also did some poking around on the internet for writing resources regarding romance writing.

I have no idea what I’m doing with the romance writing.  Really, I just want to know how to create romantic tension between my male and female characters and build a believable relationship.  I’m not writing Fifty Shades of Gray or anything.  It’s not THAT kind of romance writing.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to break away from the chronological novel and write backstory for one character.  I think all my problems stem from my not knowing his character well enough.  I especially need to know and understand how he got himself into his current situation.  What flaws led him there?  What insecurities does he have?  Where do his goals and ambitions come from?

I know that none of his backstory will actually be in the novel.  Part of me is so eager to be done already that I’m frustrated to be taking this “time out” of sorts.  But it might be freeing to write something that never has to be seen.  So here’s hoping I have some fun with it.  And here’s hoping that this makes writing the messy middle a little neater and easier.

Questions for my readers:

  • Do you know any good resources on writing backstory?
  • Do you know any good resources on writing romance?
  • Can anyone recommend good YA historical romances?

Behind the Story: Emotion Part 3

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!
This week’s topic:
Emotion
The past two weeks I’ve been discussing emotional plots and emotional journeys from a writer’s perspective.  For previous posts:
What the Experts Have to Say
Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies
By Deborah Halverson
Pages 98-99 examine the differences between plot driven stories and character driven stories.  
Plot driven stories “put the action first” and “have an episodic feel to them as the characters move from event to event” and are often described as “page turners.”  Plot driven stories tend to appeal to boys and are often the following genres: adventure, fantasy, mystery, crime, thriller, and sometimes historical fiction.  One warning about plot driven stories is that characters can sometimes become stereotypical because the author wants to move the pace along instead of spending time on characterization.
Character driven stories “spotlight your main character’s emotions and psychological development” and “what happens isn’t as important as how the character reacts emotionally to what happens.”  The following genres are often character driven: contemporary-issue books, chick lit, multicultural stories, and coming-of-age themed books.  Some warnings for character driven stories are to beware of telling instead of showing, not to be afraid of action because it can reveal more about your character, and  to beware slow pacing from too much emotional wallowing and self-analysis.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
This is a very cool book.  Emotions are arranged alphabetically into entries similar to a dictionary or encyclopedia.  You can look up an emotion and it will give you:
  • definition
  • physical signals
  • internal sensations
  • mental responses
  • cues of acute or long-term feelings
  • what this emotion could escalate to
  • cues of suppressed feelings

It’s really an amazing little book.  Especially if you feel like you are overusing the same response for an emotion.  For example, your character keeps having stomach fluttering when she’s nervous.  If you look up nervousness, you get 33 physical signals and 11 internal sensations that indicate nervousness.  So awesome!
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
By John Gardner
Gardner presents an interesting exercise for using description of setting to convey the emotions of the character.  His exercise: “Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war.  Do not mention the son, or war, or death.  Do not mention the man who does the seeing.”  Gardner says that a talented writer should be able to conjure a powerful image that evokes everything the man is feeling using the barn as a focus.
Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
By Cheryl Klein
Klein has a short but wonderful chapter in her book titled, “Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story.”  My favorite part of the chapter was where she said, “Every scene has to have a point, and often it is an emotional point.”  When you’re revising a manuscript, and perhaps asked to cut scenes, you can ask yourself if this scene is a plot point or an emotional point.  She even goes so far to say that writers will often cut off after the action and right before the emotional point is reached.  This made me wonder if I had any scenes where emotions weren’t dealt with because I cut out too early.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel
By James N. Frey
Frey has a great section titled, “Inner Conflict and the Necessity Thereof.”  Basically, he writes that inner conflict is necessary for good fiction.  He gives several classic literary examples to illustrate his point.  He says that Godzilla doesn’t have the makings of dramatic fiction because there is no inner conflict.  Giant green monster tearing up your city, of course you kill him.  There is no internal battle of wills.  In Hamlet on the other hand, the prince wants to kill his father’s murderer but has an internal struggle against it.  This internal struggle is what grips the reader and makes great dramatic fiction.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts on emotion!  Let me know in the comments if you have another writing topic you’d like to see featured!

Links to Previous ‘Behind the Story’ Posts: